“Riding through History: Exploring Clarke County’s Colonial Roads”
On exhibit at Long Branch Plantation through spring then to the Clarke County Historical Society in Berryville, Virginia.
Arriving at last to Long Branch off-season in sun and bitter cold, it’s warm and quiet in the big house, like school out for the holidays tended by docents. They are art historians, very young in Shetland sweaters and Carhartt overalls, just in from tending the horses, tousled with manure and snow on their small boots
Following my GPS, I got lost on the way shooting off 340 later than advised. But stopping for historical markers I would have missed, I ended up trundling across train tracks, and Old Chapel Road, dropping down into Browntown sunken and cinder, its banks humped higher than the car following the remains of a stone wall, like a row of cairns now, flickering in the shaggy ceder treeline.
The Long Branch exhibit is called “Riding through History: Exploring Clarke’s Colonial Roads,” co-curated by historian and equestrian (considered the Father of Equine Sports Medicine) Matthew Mackay-Smith, the Clarke County Historical Association, and Long Branch Plantation.
A scholarly, accessible collection describing Clarke County’s old (‘archaic’ says the exhibit) roads – carved first by European men on horseback who flowed across the fields and rivers, and up the forested flanks of the Blue Ridge seeking easy passage to lands west. Apt, the exhibit at Long Branch, a house that remembers those roads – owes its existence to them, in a small, elegant room full of windows and light, facing the hills.
Its evocative writing (“at last scouts had found a gap in the seemingly impenetrable mountains…”) and multimedia: Snicker’s Gap Turnpike Lottery announcements, toll rates, (horse and rider 4 cents, a score of cattle or a phaeton, 12), and advice about ‘How to Spot an Old Road,’ made me gaze out the tall, old windows and their wobbly glass west to Blandy across the dazzling snow and empty fields.